Your Tax Dollars at Work (LA Unified School District Edition)
By now, you've probably heard about the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in Los Angeles. At $578 million, it's the most expensive public school ever built, and it speaks volumes about why the city--and state of California--are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Apparently, there's no budget crisis in the L.A. school district, just plenty of money for the best of everything.
From an AP dispatch, published in the Washington Post:
At RFK, the features include fine art murals and a marble memorial depicting the complex's namesake, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and preservation of pieces of the original hotel (the complex sits on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, where Senator Kennedy was assassinated in 1968).
Partly by circumstance and partly by design, the Los Angeles Unified School District has emerged as the mogul of Taj Mahals.
The RFK complex follows on the heels of two other LA schools among the nation's costliest - the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, which opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School that debuted in 2009.
The pricey schools have come during a sensitive period for the nation's second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall and some schools persistently rank among the nation's lowest performing.
Still a month away from its official opening, the RFK school has ignited a firestorm of outrage. Critics wonder why so much money was wasted on top-of-the-line amenities, which helped push the final price tag past half-a-billion dollars. The complex includes such items as a restaurant-quality pizza oven; teacher planning areas between each classroom and a 10-acre park.
Meanwhile, the L.A. school district remains one of the nation's worst, in terms of student performance and graduation rates. Less than 40% of high school students earn their diploma and the system has laid off 3,000 teachers in recent years to save money.
District officials insist they've learned their lesson and the RFK school will be their last Taj Mahal. If you believe that, you're probably a graduate of the L.A. Unified District--or one of their senior administrators.